Fifty years ago this October, Charles M. Schulz’s iconic Peanuts characters took the screen for their second-ever holiday special in the premiere of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

The short specials began in 1965 with A Charlie Brown Christmas. And for the past five decades, a slew of short, made-for-TV films featuring Charlie Brown and the gang have helped families of all generations ring in the holiday season.

Schulz and his producers continued to write and animate new story lines throughout the years, but they recently ended with Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown in 2011.

While people are quick to name A Charlie Brown Christmas as the best Peanuts short of all time, a strong case can be made for It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown deserving the top spot.

Let’s review the facts.

Fans who are familiar with the notorious illustration style of Schulz can likely differentiate between a 1950’s drawing of Charlie Brown and a 1970’s one. The once short-and-round characters thinned out and took on a more sketch-like appearance over the years, but were still able to retain their youthful charm.

Alyssa Irgang, a senior psychology major, remembers watching It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown growing up, but hasn’t seen it since she was a child.

“I can’t believe it’s the 50th anniversary though. Wow, it’s so old,” Irgang said.

The animations we see today in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown are examples of the latter drawings. The short also includes iconic scenes such as Snoopy fighting off the Red Baron, which was, for the time period, a huge animation milestone.

Turning Snoopy’s doghouse into a flying World War I fighter jet was a feat in itself. The visual flip of the screen during a tumultuous barrel role, as Snoopy and the doghouse continued to change colors throughout, was different from anything fans had seen before in earlier Peanuts shorts.

Animator Bill Melendez, who worked on a variety of films and shorts throughout his career, including Dumbo and Bambi, spearheaded the animation in A Charlie Brown Christmas, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

Arguably it was Melendez who brought the most color, both literally and figuratively, to the production table.

“Of the 50 prime-time specials we created with Schulz… I believe It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is Bill Melendez’s animation masterpiece,” Lee Mendelson, executive producer of the Peanuts, told The Washington Post.

Classic scenes like the Lucy and Charlie Brown football prank and “I got a rock” trick-or-treating truly define the holiday special, but it was Melendez’s attention to rich, autumnal hues and crisp scenery that set it apart from the rest.

Allison Thompson, a senior broadcast journalism major, was also surprised to hear that her favorite pumpkin patch scene had hit the half-century mark.

“I guess I didn’t really know how old it was. It’s a classic, it’s just kind of timeless to me,” Thompson said.

For those unfamiliar with the classic tale of the Great Pumpkin, the story follows a determined Linus in his mission to wait up all night, in only the most deserved of pumpkin patches, for a chance to see the Great Pumpkin. Side stories along the way show the Peanuts gang as they partake in the usual Halloween traditions like trick-or-treating and costume making.

The beloved story of the Great Pumpkin continues to inspire people 50 years later. Charlie Brown fans have been celebrating the 50th anniversary of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown with everything from pop-up corn mazes to Peanut-themed Halloween parties.

Fans can catch the 50th anniversary viewing of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on Oct. 28, at 8 p.m. on ABC.

Feature Photo Credit: Feature photo courtesy of Nicole Mays on Flickr.

Samantha Pitkin is a senior journalism major and can be reached at spitkin@terpmail.umd.edu.

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